Friday, May 8, 2009

A good home

I sold two bottle lambs yesterday. Two lambs to a good home. A home with three children who aren’t at all intimidated by the enthusiasm that the lambs want to share with them. The girl, kneeling in the straw of the barn, leans back as number 23 tastes her long hair. Her little brother, barely able to walk himself, staggers after Chewie and his older brother races after a third lamb. Their favorite is Little Bit, with his enthusiasm and his cute long tail and his obvious affection.

But I won’t sell them Little Bit. When I walk out to feed the sheep I still expect to find Little Bit dead, trampled by the ewes or starved over night, or gone, stolen by eagles or coyotes or fox. Every day, when Little Bit races around the corner of the barn, still limping a little, but keeping up with the flock, my heart is glad.

But just because Little Bit is alive and runs with the flock doesn’t mean that he is healthy. We have no idea what internal damage his mother’s malnutrition or genetics caused in him, what damage kept him from breathing, deformed his shoulders, skewed his ability to regulate his body temperature. It wouldn’t be fair to new shepherds to sell or even give them a lamb that they would grow to love, only to lose.

Saying that, I realize that I lose every lamb eventually. Some in the first instants of life, most during the summer to ethnic feasts, a few to new homes with other shepherds, and some to old age. Losing a lamb to old age is the best loss, the one where I watch the lamb grow; I cherish her fleeces and her babies; I coddle her as she ages; and I mourn her death.

I have lost two lambs since yesterday. But it was a good loss, and I smiled as we stuffed little white 23 and a slightly larger black lamb, number 41, into a pet carrier in the back of the car. The lambs are baaing. The kids are baaing back. These lambs will join some piglets and horses to build an old fashioned farm for this family, to build a good home.

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